RALEIGH — East Carolina fans came out to Carter-Finley Stadium in droves on Saturday to witness history.
The Pirates did not disappoint with a 42-28 road win over the Wolfpack. It’s the first time ECU has beaten N.C. State and North Carolina in the same season.
“Just being a North Carolina kid, it feels great just to know we own the state,” said ECU linebacker Zeek Bigger, who’s from Gastonia.
Duke might want to argue with the Pirates, but N.C. State can’t. The Pirates (9-2) owned the stadium Saturday, with more purple than red in the stands in the second half.
Quarterback Shane Carden, who accounted for five touchdowns, gave them plenty to cheer about in building a 35-7 lead after three quarters for their fifth straight win and ninth of the season.
“It’s kind of what we expect,” said Carden of the win. “We are a very confident team right now.”
Confidence is scarce on the Wolfpack (3-8) side as the lists of firsts continue in the other direction. The Wolfpack lost to ECU, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest in the same season for the first time in school history. It dropped its seventh straight game, a first since the 2006 season.
“Every team is going to make some history,” N.C. State quarterback Brandon Mitchell said. “You never want to be on the down side of it.”
There was no avoiding it on Saturday for the Wolfpack, even with Mitchell throwing for a season-best 312 yards and four touchdowns.
N.C. State fell behind 21-7 at the half and 35-7 after three quarters. Carden threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more for the Pirates, who will play at Marshall on Friday for Conference USA’s East Division title.
A win there would put the Pirates in the C-USA title game on Dec. 7 in Greenville against Rice or North Texas.
While N.C. State’s loss at Boston College last Saturday was like getting hit by a hammer, over and over again, the Pirates performed surgery on Saturday.
Carden was precise in the passing game, 23 of 30 for 255 yards, and running back Vintavious Cooper rushed for 148 yards.
“We didn’t make enough plays defensively, or offensively, in the first half,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “When we came alive in the fourth quarter, unfortunately it was a little too late.”
Carden got the Pirates going quickly with a 10-play, 75-yard drive on the first possession of the game. The junior quarterback hit receiver Justin Hardy on a 3-yard TD pass at 11:07 in the first quarter.
The Wolfpack answered with exactly what it wanted going into the game – a long, clock-milking touchdown drive. N.C. State marched 76 yards in 14 plays and at up 7 minutes and 52 seconds on the clock.
Running back Tony Creecy caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell, who started after missing last week’s loss with an ankle injury.
The Pack’s offense couldn’t keep up with ECU’s. Carden added a 5-yard TD pass to receiver Bryce Williams and a 3-yard TD run in the second quarter to make it 21-7.
It was 35-7 after a Carden had a 1-yard TD run and running back Breon Allen tacked on a 3-yard TD run.
Mitchell found freshman receiver Jumichael Ramos for a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter and Rashard Smith (seven catches, 104 yards) for a 30-yard touchdown.
It wasn’t enough to prevent ECU from leaving the Triangle for the second time this season with a historic road win.
“That’s a pretty good season,” fourth-year ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said of the wins over N.C. State and Carolina.
And there’s still more ahead for the Pirates to make it even better.